Mix of surprises and stars in St. Pete Fast Six

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At least three of IndyCar’s “usual suspects” and three surprises created a compelling mix of drivers in the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg Firestone Fast Six.

Will Power (eight times), Helio Castroneves (four) and James Hinchcliffe (five) made regular trips to the top six a year ago. Power, unsurprisingly, secured his fourth straight pole in St. Petersburg.

But Takuma Sato, Simona de Silvestro and Tristan Vautier (right) had a combined one Firestone Fast Six appearance between them – Sato’s fourth place qualifying run at Edmonton a year ago – so were no doubt the big surprises of the day.

Sato and de Silvestro have each shown pace and an immediate gelling with their new teams, A.J. Foyt Racing and KV Racing Technology, this weekend, while IndyCar rookie Vautier has already taken like a duck to water on debut.

“It’s very cool, and it’s a lot of fun now,” said Vautier. “But I was a little nervous going in. The work I’ve done with Allen McDonald (engineer) and the whole team has been great.”

Sato and Vautier defended Honda’s performance, as Honda has been frequently down on the time charts this weekend although the collective nature of the field is close.

“I don’t think we, as Honda, have issues,” said Sato. “We have a good balance and a good chassis. I know Honda has been working really hard.”

For de Silvestro, making her first ever Firestone Fast Six appearance in four seasons (her prior best start was seventh at Edmonton, 2010), the ability to maximize her innate speed is something she has had to prove this weekend.

“To be honest, this winter I had a lot of doubts,” she admitted. “I wondered if I could still be fast? But it has been a big relief to be up front.”

De Silvestro and Vautier each outqualified their more heralded teammates; Tony Kanaan will start 11th, Simon Pagenaud 19th.

 

Williams to wait until new year before making 2018 F1 driver decision

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Williams will wait until the new year before making an announcement regarding its Formula 1 driver line-up for the 2018 season.

Williams holds the final vacant seat in F1 for next year, with Felipe Massa retiring at the last race of the 2017 season in Abu Dhabi at the end of November.

The Brazilian’s departure has opened up a seat alongside Lance Stroll for 2018, which looked poised to be taken by Robert Kubica, over seven years after he last raced in F1 before injuries sustained in a rally accident appeared to cut his career short.

Doubts emerged about Kubica’s comeback following a test with Williams in its 2017-spec car in Abu Dhabi after the final race of the season, leading to Russian youngster Sergey Sirotkin becoming the favorite.

Besides Kubica and Sirotkin, ditched Toro Rosso driver Daniil Kvyat is also an option, but Williams has now confirmed it will make no decision on its line-up until the new year.

Sirotkin first entered the frame in F1 in 2013 when he became a development driver at Sauber, with Russian backers SMP Racing pushing to get him a race seat for the following year.

Sirotkin missed out on a full-time role at the team, leading him to focus on racing in Formula Renault 3.5 for 2014 before spending two years in GP2, where he finished third in the standings in both seasons.

Renault struck an agreement to sign Sirotkin in a junior role in 2016, leading to a number of practice run-outs over the last two seasons, but he was passed over for a 2018 race seat when it signed Carlos Sainz Jr.

Williams emerged as an option for Sirotkin following a successful maiden test with the team in Abu Dhabi alongside Kubica, with talks now set to continue over the holiday period.

Sirotkin has not taken on a full-time race program this year, making just a single competitive appearance in the 24 Hours of Le Mans with SMP Racing in the LMP2 class.

Sirotkin has also been involved in the development of the team’s BR Engineering-designed LMP1 car for the 2018 FIA World Endurance Championship season, and is likely to secure a seat should he miss out on the role at Williams.